<Home/Articles/A practical guide to the Azores

A practical guide to the Azores

|

For picturesque ocean scenery, patchwork flower meadows and forested peaks out in the heart of the Atlantic, head to the Azores. This verdant archipelago is Portuguese territory, yet earns the moniker of ‘Hawaii of Europe’ with its volcanic panoramas, dense greenery and stunning waterfalls and lakes, alongside pockets of pristine coastline ripe for snorkelling, boating and swimming.

If you’re heading out to this cluster of emeralds at sea, you’ll want to prepare – though there is infrastructure for tourists, the Azores isn’t really a ‘wing it’ destination and you’ll get more out of your trip if you plan before you arrive. Read on to get inspired with our practical guide to the Azores, then chat to one of our local travel experts to start planning your dream itinerary.

The islands of the Azores

The Azores is made up of nine main islands, and the best ones for you will depend on your ideal trip. The biggest, most commonly toured islands include São Miguel, Terceira, Pico, and Faial, but each has its own distinctive charms (we’ve outlined them in full in our island-by-island guide to the Azores).

São Miguel, the biggest island

You’ll likely land in São Miguel. As the biggest and most populous island, it is home to the capital Ponta Delgada, has the most amenities, and hosts numerous volcanic regions crammed with glorious forests, tea plantations and crater lakes, ripe for hiking and exploring. A day on São Miguel usually means trekking along jungle-esque trails past caldera lagoons, searching for hidden waterfalls, and rounding off the day with a soak in mineral-rich hot springs.

Volcanoes, vineyards and local cheese

In terms of the other islands, more laid-back Santa Maria blooms with vineyards and white-sand beaches, and Pico is named after its scene-stealing volcano. The rich history of Terceira includes UNESCO-protected Angra do Heroísmo and a scattering of scenic churches. São Jorge boasts impressive ravines and dramatic scenery, as well as its famous artisanal cheese. To get truly ‘away from it all’, the almost uninhabited island of Corvo has impressive birdlife – but be aware there won’t be much in the way of supplies.

A kingdom of whales and dolphins

A good number of the Azores are primed for whale and dolphin-watching, as huge numbers of them migrate in the waters surrounding the isles. Pico is a key launch point for marine boat tours, as sperm whales often pass alongside the southern side of the island. Blue and fin whales, bottle-nosed dolphins, and spotted and striped dolphins are also commonly seen.

Getting around

When it comes to getting around, consider renting a car when you’ve chosen a base island. Public transport is limited in some parts of the Azores and you can embrace the adventurous spirit when you’re free to roam with your own set of wheels. To get between the islands there are regular ferries, or you can take inter-island flights if you’re short on time.

Weather conditions

The Azores has a mild maritime climate, so prepare for the occasional bout of wet weather no matter when you visit. That said, if you’re travelling the Azores you’ll likely have an affinity for water.

The best time weather-wise to visit the Azores is the summer (June to August), as it’s a great time to spot whales, lounge on the beaches and enjoy longer, warmer days. Temperatures reach a high of around 25 degrees Celsius, so still has that relatively cool ocean freshness. That said, it is peak tourist season, and some might prefer exploring the Azores with fewer people around.

Spring (March to May) is a pleasant time to visit, as the green lushness for which the Azores are renowned is at its freshest and most vibrant, and flowers are in full bloom. Weather is mild, temperatures hover around 15-20 degrees Celsius, with occasional short rains. Winter (December to February) is the low tourist season and the most unpredictable in terms of rain and colder temperatures. You’ll need to bring warmer clothing, though temperatures are still mild at around 10 degrees Celsius. It can be satisfying to feel you have the islands to yourselves.

What to pack

A big part of exploring the Azores means getting wet. Whether it’s a flash rain shower, sea-spray from a whale-watching boat trip, stopping at waterfalls and freshwater pools, or taking a dip in hot springs to soothe those just-hiked limbs. Pack a lightweight, rain-proof jacket and an assortment of swimwear, so you’ll have spare sets while another is drying.

Hiking shoes or boots are another necessity. The Azores blooms with walking trails, which can sometimes be gravelly, muddy or on steep inclines. Having decent footwear will support the long days trekking through sublime volcanic vistas.

Finally, you’ll want to pack for cooler temperatures, even if visiting in the peak of summer. The climate can be similar to the UK and other parts of northern Europe, getting chillier at nightfall. Pack some long-sleeved items and the odd jumper or two.

Bonus point: some binoculars will be handy to catch all the epic marine life breaching the water, or point towards some incredible birdlife, if you’re that way inclined. Travel sickness tablets are recommended if you feel unwell on ferries or small planes – and a power bank, to avoid running out of battery during long days out.

Cuisine considerations

The Azores isn’t known globally for its culinary offering, but the food here has a Mediterranean-European vibe and is definitely unique and flavourful. When you’re this far out into the ocean, you have to be self-sufficient and almost everything is grown on the land, so you’ll have the satisfying knowledge that your dinner usually hasn’t travelled far.

Tuck into hearty beef dishes or seafood stew (octopus stew, polvo à lagareiro, is a speciality), or the traditionally butter-fried limpets in pepper sauce. Azorean cheeses are also well-respected, particularly the famous local cheese of São Jorge, which come in varieties spanning mild to strong.

Vegetarians who eat fish will have plenty of choice; those who don’t may need to communicate with chefs to be clear on ingredients. Vegans may struggle on the more remote islands, but the capital in São Miguel should have a few options for plant-based fare.

Make it happen

Ready to start planning your Azores adventure? Get in touch with our local travel experts in the Azores – they’re based on the islands and are primed with all the knowledge needed to build your perfect custom trip.

Get inspired

Here's some articles to inspire you...

Layers of heritage: our guide to North Africa for foodies

21 May 2024

Unveiling Namibia: a beginner’s guide

20 May 2024

Our guide to the Namib, oldest desert on Earth

19 May 2024

Book with confidence
99% of reviewers recommend us